Book Club – How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster

How to readFrom back cover: What does it mean when a fictional hero takes a journey? Shares a meal? Gets drenched in a sudden rain shower?  A practical and amusing guide to literature, this is the book Connie uses in one of the classes she teaches. Because the group has been discussing meaning at a somewhat deeper level, we decided this would be a great book for May.


Robin: I love the tongue in cheek humor Foster uses through out this “manual” for readers. But at times I felt he was too in love with words (is that possible?) and he used them as Costco uses the smell of fresh baked cookies piped to the front of the store–to draw us in to what he wants us to believe. For example, his statement “There is only one story.” Drawing the example of a barrel of eels Foster leads us to believe that each story begat the next and that all the meaning is embedded in one story. But of course, because this is the story of man, written by man and what else could it be? Kind of a dramatic oversimplificaiton in my opinion. So then there is this trick – if the writer doesn’t have intent, but things appear to the reader is this evidence of some psychic/genetic/cosmic energy permeating us all? The trick seems to be for the writer to lead the reader to his/her own personal symbolism, but to do this in a subtle, non-cliche, unique way. (No wonder my book is taking so long to write!) Then I ask myself this question – Have I spent my whole life looking at words in books without really reading them? Because Foster describes the art of reading as needing practice – practice finding the symbols, the subtle meanings- and I don’t think I have ever really practiced this, in spite of reading and reading and reading. I did love this book, and I would recommend it, but there are times when thinking too hard while reading kind of ruins it for me. Rate – 4.5 stars.

Gloria: I think we all had fun discussing the serious study of reading a book from an English professor’s perspective. I think the book is invaluable to students taking English Literature classes. Another benefit of reading this book, is that now we will understand your analysis of books better! Plus, we might even find a symbol or two or even go as far as comparing the book to a previous work. Oh, oh, I may be going too far. We all agree with you that it is about the joy of reading, the escape into another world, etc. Rate – 3.0

Connie: Throughout time I think there has existed a handful of geniuses out there who have a very special gift that has allowed them to accomplish what other writers cannot necessarily do, even with all the training and understanding of literature. And, for me, a book like the Professor book sort of gives one the key to unlock all the parts of the novel that are below the surface; it helps one recognize some of the deeper levels to which these brilliant people are capable. If one likes that sort of thing, it deepens the complexity of the book.  But then again, a novel like The Great Gatsby can still be enjoyed for what’s on the surface – a great story, great characters, and writing that reads like poetry – but for those who want more, there is more. Some may say it’s also the story of America itself, the transitory dream of perfection, the juxtaposition of East and West in America, the efforts to re-capture the corrupted dream. If you can catch it, Fitzerald includes a direct allusion back to Ben Franklin’s The Autobiography (re: his efforts to become “morally pure” and is schedule for “self-improvement”); thusthe novel examines and serves as a cautionary tale against the whole Protestant Work Ethic that has shaped the American consciousness.  But do you need to be aware of all that’s going on below the surface to enjoy the book?  No. Does the awareness of all the sub-level text made the read more enjoyable?  For some, yes.  But only if it is fun for you. Anyway, at the end of the day, it’s all about the joy of reading. It’s all about what you love, and losing yourself in a good book. Have a great summer of reading, all. Rate – 4.95


Book club on break until August! Have a nice summer and read “City of Thieves” by David Benioff if you want to join the August discussion.

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